Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Going Rogue, Part II:
the EPA forsakes rationality

Commentary by James H. Shott


“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a rare step against a planned ‘mountaintop’ coal mine in West Virginia,” The Washington Post reported in March, “proposing to block the mine, despite the fact that it has a federal permit.” The story outlined the EPA’s authority to take such action, noting that “it has used that power only 12 times since 1972. It has never used the power in a case such as this, where the mine has a permit.”

Those concerned about water quality might think it is good that the government is looking out for the quality of streams affected by coal mining. However, for the EPA to protect streams from contamination it must compare the level of contaminants against realistic thresholds. That is not what the EPA does.

The agency’s recent guidance on water quality requirements relies completely on measuring conductivity – which is the ability of water to carry an electric current – to determine whether water is contaminated.

Stream biologist Ben Faulkner explains in a video produced by FACES of Coal that pure water does not conduct electricity; conductance requires solid material dissolved in water to do that. He also said that low conductivity is not a guarantee that water is safe.

The EPA has set 300 – 500 microSiemens per centimeter as the threshold for water purity; water with greater than 500 is contaminated, according to the EPA. But Mr. Faulkner notes that Evian bottled water has 558 microSiemens, Perrier has 712, apple juice has 1,919, and Gatorade has 2,580. By EPA standards, all of these products are harmful.

Iron, zinc, selenium and copper are common components in streams affected by mining, Mr. Faulkner said, and in combination over 500 microSiemens render a stream contaminated under the EPA standard. But he points out that these substances are vitamins, not toxic chemicals. Their presence in water is not automatically a problem. It’s the concentration of substances that is important, and when these metals or other contaminants are present in streams at elevated levels, mining processes are modified to control them. Even so, critics say the EPA threshold is too low; FACES of coal asserts that it is not achievable; and Mr. Faulkner says that conductivity is “a poor way to evaluate whether the stream is healthy or not.”

Yet conductivity at that level is how the EPA determines stream contamination. Is water quality the objective of the EPA, or is this a way to accomplish a political goal of the Obama administration?

The minority staff of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee issued a report last month that answers that question: “Our investigation found that the Obama Administration is using the Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting process to dismantle the coal industry in the Appalachian region.”

The EPA also has the power – and according to the US Supreme Court, the duty – to regulate “greenhouse gases” under the Clean Air Act, and its December endangerment finding formalized its conclusion that these gases threaten the environment.

This finding sets the stage for the agency to act to reduce the emission of the six gases that are allegedly responsible for global warming /climate change, “allegedly” because manipulation of scientific data and outright fraud in the climate science arena have destroyed the credibility of evidence of manmade global warming/climate change. Furthermore, a sizeable body of climate scientists argues that human activities do not cause changes to Earth’s climate.

Despite this raging controversy over an unproved and vigorously debated theory, the EPA stampedes merrily ahead to restrict greenhouse gas emissions, with particular emphasis on carbon dioxide.

But industry sources say the Clean Air Act was designed to regulate localized air pollution, and is a clumsy tool for broader application. The US Chamber of Commerce, among others, thinks the endangerment declaration could lead to litigation that will harm the economy.

Carbon dioxide, like the vitamins dissolved in streams, is vital to the ecosphere; CO2 exhaled by humans and other animals is essential for plant life; the oxygen plants emit is essential for animal life, and a significant faction of scientists believe more CO2 is good, not bad.

The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change says on its Web site, CO2 Science, “Clearly, the panic-evoking extinction-predicting paradigms of the past are rapidly giving way to the realization they bear little resemblance to reality. Earth's plant and animal species are not slip-sliding away” to extinction. And the Center’s Dr. Craig Idso concludes that "Clearly, there is no way that these real-world observations can be construed to even hint at the possibility that a significant increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide will necessarily lead to any global warming."

A resolution in the US Senate to stop unelected government officials at the EPA from micromanaging the economy was defeated 53-47 last week with just six Democrats joining Republicans in trying to protect us from runaway bureaucratic malfeasance, precisely what this column warned of in December in the first “Going rogue.”

The EPA has become nothing more than a political tool of leftist ideology that is taking aim at American industries, and may well be a key element in unraveling the US economy.

Cross-posted from Observations

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